We have to draw the line. We need to demand that our elected leaders and the Boston Public Library (BPL) board of trustees work together to cover the $3.5 million gap in library funding. That is clearly not a lot of money to raise or to find in the state budget. In fact, both finding the money in the budget and designing a fund-raising plan that looks to close current and future funding gaps seems the most practical way to solve the problem.
There has been a groundswell of support to halt plans to shutter libraries in Boston’s neighborhoods until the $3.5 shortfall is resolved. City Councilor At Large Felix Arroyo suggests funding might be taken from the city reserves, but with the firefighters’ compensation package looming large, that might now be unlikely.
Library managers have been clear in their position that the savings must come from the proposed closure of library branches, rather than through reductions in wasteful spending or through innovative approaches to obtaining new sources of revenues.
New on the table, prompted by community outrage at neighborhood library closings, is action by a majority of Boston state reps, led by Rep. Linda Dorcena-Forry (Dorchester-Lower Mills) and Rep. Michael Moran (Allston/Brighton). Their amendments to the state budget seek $2.4 million in funding that will only be distributed if the city passes a budget that does not close a branch library.
Private sector companies in Boston have been forced to tighten their belts, and the BPL is fully capable of doing the same. Elimination of waste must be given priority consideration. A reduction in executive salaries and overtime compensation should precede any closure of any neighborhood library. New trustees should be appointed who can do what many trustees often do to keep their organizations afloat: raise money. In a climate where Bostonians are working for less money and forced to cut spending, public managers who rely on Boston taxpayers for their jobs should be called upon to do the same before services are cut.
Careful consideration must also be given to partnering with the private sector to enhance library revenues. The support of private philanthropy should be enlisted to keep neighborhood libraries open as long as possible. For instance, naming rights could be given to corporate sponsors in exchange for donations to keep the affected library branches open.
While some library branch closures may be unavoidable, such closures should only be a last resort—not the first option for managers and public officials unwilling to tighten their own belts. As Councilor Arroyo has pointed out, library branches should not be pitted against each other in the quest for scarce resources under any circumstances, much less when there may be alternative ways for reducing expenditures. Bottom line, everyone needs to work together to come up with creative ways to keep our libraries open.
The writer is a practicing Boston attorney and former research associate at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.